The Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is the only endemic species of scrub jays native to the U.S. State of Florida. This unique species is highly sought by birders who travel across the country to observe them. Ornithologists assume that Florida Scrub Jays are the successors of the Woodhouse Scrub Jays. The bad news is: Florida Scrub Jay habitats are already being affected due to the destruction of its scrub habitat that are being replaced with human dwellings. Other contributing factors are periodic droughts, nutrient-poor soils, frequent wild fires, high rainfall, and rapid growth of invasive plants. Florida Scrub Jay predominantly build nests in sand pines, xeric oaks, sand live oak, myrtle oak, Chapman’s oak, and scrub oak. As a result, Florida Scrub Jay is on the edge of being extinct. 85% of Florida Scrub Jays habitats on Florida's mainland coasts, barrier islands, and Lake Wales Ridge have been destroyed. In 1993, a state-wide bird population census documented approximately 4,000 breeding pairs of the scrub-jays in Florida, and 374 pairs remaining in the mainland Brevard County. In the year 1975, Florida scrub-jay was first listed by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission as a “threatened species”. In 1987, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as “federally threatened species” according to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In spite of these legislation protection efforts, the population of Florida scrub jays continues to decline at a rate of 15-20% each year. Other Jay species and crows that are related closely are more adaptable than the Scrub Jay. The Scrub Jays do not move out of the scrub habitats were they were born and search for food in those same areas and hardly venture out long distances over marshes or forests to look for food which could be the reason for their numbers dwindling down at an alarming rate.
Adult Florida Scrub Jays measure approximately between 23 - 28 cm in length, and weighs between 75–85 grams. The ngspan of the Florida Scrub Jay lies between 13–14 inches. It has a powerful black bill, and blue head and nape. Florida Scrub Jay has a whitish forehead, blue wings and bib. The under-parts are grayish. It has a long blue tail supported by black legs and feet.
Florida Scrub Jays are omnivorous. They prefer to consume fruits, acorns, nuts, and grains. Often, Florida Scrub Jays store nuts and acorns for later use. The acorns collected in the fall are consumed during the winter and spring. These passerine birds also feed on spiders, bird’s eggs, mice, lizards, tree-frogs insects, snails and small vertebrates. Florida Scrub Jays hop or run along the ground to catch their prey.
Florida Scrub Jays are one of the rarest co-operative breeding birds found in the entire North America. After completing two to three years, males and females start copulation. Mature Florida Scrub Jay couples choose a territory and stay there permanently. Mating season starts from the month of March through June. Usually, female scrub jays lay 3 to 4 pale eggs. Within 16 to 19 days of hatching, juvenile Florida scrub-jays or fledglings get their feathers and start to fly. Young scrub jays stay with their parents for two to three years till they reach their breeding age. Cats, snakes, accipiter hawks, and falcons are the predators of the adult Florida Scrub-Jays.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is a government agency included within the Department of the Interior. The main mission of the bureau is to protect, conserve and enhance endangered wildlife, fish, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American population. In the years 1982, the newly amended Endangered Species Act empowered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the authority to issue restrictions for private property development activities which conflicts with the habitat needs of threatened species. Every real estate or property developer has to prepare a “Habitat Conservation Plan” that clearly specifies the steps to minimize or avoid negative impacts on the habitats of endangered species.
The Habitat Conservation Plan can be simply defined as a consensus building planning process. However, the Brevard County authority issued property development permits for habitats occupied by Florida scrub jays. This led to the destruction and disruption of normal Florida scrub jay behavior. As a result, in June 1991, the FWS issued a warning letter to the County specifying the details of third-party violations of the Endangered Species Act. In the year 1992, the Board of County Commissioners designed and implemented a habitat conservation plan known as "Scrub Conservation and Development Plan (SCDP)" for Florida scrub-jays in Brevard County. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service entirely fund the SCDP process. The Brevard County was granted $310,000 to finance all elements involved in the Florida scrub jay habitats conservation planning process. The Board of County Commissioners collaborated with conservation consultants to conduct studies necessary for drafting a county-wide plan. The County was responsible for delegating administrative support for the SCDP and appointed a part-time environmental specialist to manage the project. Later, the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy accepted the invitation to facilitate the planning process.
The Board of County Commissioners has established two ad-hoc boards with two citizens namely the Scientific Advisory Group and the SCDP Citizen Steering Committee to develop the Scrub Conservation and Development Plan. Representatives of these two committees meet once every three years to redevelop the goals and objectives of the SCDP.
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